City Mice

There are few things more beautiful than an organic farm in the first few days of summer. My nieces are visiting from the Bay Area and I had the privilege to take them to Mountain Bounty Farm this morning. They are 12- and 13-years-old and got up early today to volunteer their time with the Gold Country Gleaners.

We got to Mountain Bounty Farm at 7:45am, just when the cool air had all but worn off. There were butterflies touching their noses to yellow flowers and bees bowing to bolted broccoli. It was breath-taking.

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My nieces are definitely “city mice” but they are not totally ignorant about country ways and where their food comes from. My nieces have spent enough time with us in the country, and have spent many days on local farms while visiting us here in Nevada County. They like the country and they love to visit farms. Today was no exception.

The girls and I spent the morning picking vegetables with, Clif Mackinlay, another Gleaners volunteer. The owner of Mountain Bounty Farm, John Tecklin, and his skilled farm managers, are great at preparing the fields for succession planting so that the farm’s CSA and market customers always have the best of the best and a wide variety of veggies, lettuce and herbs. The fields were filled with a variety of greenery.

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I laughed when the 12-year-old, Mariana, said today, “Auntie, this plant smells like pickles.” She was standing next to a wispy-leafed plant with big, yellow sprigs of flowers. She thought for a moment and asked, “Is this dill?”

It sure was. “Yep!” I said. “Nice plant identification!”

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Mountain Bounty Farm is in full swing right now but many of the cruciferous vegetables out at the farm are in their last days. For Mountain Bounty and their customers, they have had their fill of vegetables like cabbage and bok choy; they are now moving onto other varieties that are more in season.

Vegetables like cabbage, cauliflower and bok choy grow better in the late winter and early spring up here in the Sierra Foothills. With summer upon us, things like and cabbage and bok choy are starting to bolt. The CSA and market customers have delightfully gotten the cream of the crop (quite literally) but there were still some very nice cabbages and lots of bok choy left in the field. That’s where gleaning comes in.

The concept of gleaning dates back to before the Christian bible was written. In other parts of the world, gleaning has been a staple of consistent community service for centuries. In Nevada County, our most organized efforts have taken place in the past few years. Last year, we really took off. Last year alone, we donated more than five tons of food to local organizations. The Gold Country Gleaners have been called out to orchards, homesteads, farms and gardens to help with gathering and donating food.

I’m not sure how effective my nieces and I were in the field at Mountain Bounty today. I cut heads of cabbage away from the roots with my knife and tossed them to the girls who ran the cabbages back to boxes up the hill. I think we probably looked more like we were running a P.E. drill than like we were farming.

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Pulling the bok choy and helping Clif with things like fennel and lettuce proved even more of a mess. As we tried to separate the plants from their strong roots, we found ourselves covered in dirt and often times holding leaves and stalks, rather than a whole bunch. Still, we worked hard and eventually came up with nearly twenty boxes of veggies to take to our local food pantries.

Clif Mackinlay had a much easier time than the three of us. He is a skilled harvester and is much more patient than a couple of teenaged-girls and their auntie. I watched him as he carefully harvested lettuce and a green, leafy vegetable related to bok choy. He had large stalks of fennel and several boxes filled with neatly picked greens.

We agreed that my nieces and I would go to the San Juan Ridge Family Resource Center to drop off some produce and then to the Interfaith Food Ministry in Grass Valley. Clif would go to the Salvation Army, Hospitality House, and then to the Nevada County Food bank.

Altogether, the Gold Country Gleaners donated about 50 boxes of food and several work-hours to help feed the hungry in Nevada County today. We served several non-profits and made sure that our food pantries were stocked.

 My nieces were happy to help and they had a great time. I’m glad that we all had a nice day out on the farm.

Dumpster Diving

I complain a lot about money. There just doesn’t ever seem to be enough of it. Right now, we need new tires for the car. We have to buy special food for the cats to prevent bladder infection. We are hosting our nieces this week and want to spoil them. The list goes on. I’m sure you have you own list.

There have been a lot of close calls for us this past year. Our 2013 holiday season was slim pickins. There were a few bills this year that we had to pay late. But, all things considered, we do okay.

I saw a man today in my community, in Grass Valley, picking out food from the garbage. He was older, with short hair and bifocal glasses. He hadn’t shaved in a few days but his clothes looked clean and he had a hopeful smile on his face. He was rummaging through some yellowish broccoli placed in bags outside of the Interfaith Food Ministry, on its way to the dumpster. I was making a food delivery, a large donation of organic vegetables. The man passed me on his way back to his car. I handed him some carrots and beets.

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The Interfaith Food Ministry (IFM) is a United Way partner organization and just one of a handful of different food pantries in Nevada County. I’m not sure why the man decided to go through the garbage instead of waiting in line. Mondays are a distribution day for the IFM. Maybe he had already used their services and wasn’t yet eligible for another dispersion.

IFM is operated by volunteers and provides food to those in need. They are working to be able to give clients food on a weekly basis but, right now, they only have the resources to provide food every-other-week. Their website indicates that, “Everyone needs a little help now and then. IFM distributes nutritious food to individuals and families who are struggling to make ends meet. We are open at our 440 Henderson Street, GV, location every [Monday, Wednesday and Friday] from 10 am – 1 pm. Each individual or family may receive community donated food one time every two weeks regardless of immigration status.”

The Gold Country Gleaners, an organization that I volunteer with, brings food to the Interfaith Food Ministry every Monday morning during the summer, and as often as possible in the off-season months. Our volunteers pick up organic vegetables from Mountain Bounty Farm and deliver it to several locations, including the IFM. When I got to their doors this morning, at about 9:50am, ten minutes before the doors opened for distribution, there was a line that stretched the entire length of the building and spilled out into the parking lot. There had to be at least 100 people waiting. That’s when I saw the man go through the garbage.

Last year, in an interview for a local newsletter, I said, “No one in Nevada County should have to go hungry. We are a place of kindness and abundance with many, many opportunities to grow and harvest food. With community support and helping hands, all of the food grown in Nevada County could be harvested. All of the food could be eaten. Everyone in our community should be fed.”

Shortly after delivering vegetables this morning, on my drive home, I saw my neighbors in their garden working to pull weeds amongst chard and kale. From the street I could see their tall tomato vines and a few pepper plants. I’m a gardener myself and have been startled to see ripening tomatoes and peppers already this season.

In the heat of summer and with a thriving garden, it is easy to forget that there are people very much in need in our community. Even with the incredible efforts of our food pantries and our non-profit organizations who spend countless volunteer hours to try and help those in need, we still have people in our community who need help.

I complain about money and wish that I had more of it. I’m very cautious about what I buy. We count our pennies every moment in my household. Still, I have never been without shelter and I have never been without food. I have never had too look in the garbage for my next meal.

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 I do a lot of volunteer work in my community. But I know that there are still so many people in need. The next time you are in the grocery store, please drop something off in the many collection bins at the front of the store. Even if it is just one extra thing. A little bit can go a long way.